Some 15 years ago, on a visit to the Sahara Desert, I noticed that, like me, my friendly tour guides were carrying guide books. To my surprise, these books made no mention of Morocco’s famed Valley of Roses or the Dadès Gorges. Instead, they were ‘Let’s Go’ guides to London, New York and Paris. Why, you ask? Simply put, they provided intel; many tourists to the region hailed from said cities and would most likely prefer a driver who was able to chat about, say, the best pub in south London. In the digital age, we might call this phishing or social hacking. These stratagems played on my mind when visiting ‘Secrets of Trade’ at Nome in Berlin, an exhibition of work by Goldin+Senneby (Simon Goldin and Jakob Senneby) that looks to misdirection and how it is used and abused in the realm of high finance.
Right out of the gate, there is Banca Rotta (Switzerland, 18th Century, Coniferous Wood) (2018): a wooden money-changer’s table that has been sawn in half. The bisection introduces both the etymological root of the word ‘bankrupt’ (banca meaning ‘money-lender’s table’ and rotta, ‘broken’ or ‘split’) and the dominant subject of the exhibition: sketchy investment means. Potentially suspect examples of contemporary snake oil line a gallery wall. Art Aligns with Young Readers with Artificial Intelligence by XLabs.ai, David Layton, Drs. Radhika and Travis Dirks and Art Contradicts Employment with Artificial Intelligence by XLabs.ai, David Layton, Drs. Radhika and Travis Dirks (both 2017) are two c-type prints featuring iridescent visualizations of data on black ground. These delineate arbitrary economic causalities that are spat out by supercomputers and, to the untrained eye, resemble inebriated Spirographs of a jellyfish. ‘Secrets of Trade’ contains other variations on this same theme, but the centrepiece was a delightfully jocoserious live demonstration. Titled Acid Money (2018), the performance saw the artists collaborate with Malin Nilsson, a Swedish magician, to present a series of highly theatrical tricks that noted similarities between the ways in which audiences are manipulated during mind-reading stunts and the techniques employed by traders who utilize information to dupe rival investors.
In one part of the performance, Nilsson enlisted a guest for onstage sleight of hand tricks, while correctly ‘guessing’ the participant’s biography – such as birthdate, profession and travel history. Totally perplexed by Nilsson’s spectacular clairvoyance, what the guest didn’t realize was that, in RSVPing to the event, they had allowed Nilsson to cross-reference their name with their social media profiles, from which all of this information was readily discoverable. This reveal was wedded to a parallel plot line, which saw Nilsson sing the tale of Kingsford Capital Management, LLC, a self-stylized Robin Hood-esque hedge fund whose market research develops ‘marks’ by reverse-engineering networks of allegedly fraudulent funds in a manner inspired by Mark Lombardi’s diagrams. Once mapped, the company supposedly enters these chains in order to exploit them virally. Goldin+Senneby later returned to the stage to offer buy-ins to a counter-fund that appropriates Kingsford’s methodologies – and many did, cash in hand.
Let’s say I’m trying to sell you something: a piece of art, a hedge fund or, more simply, a used car. As the current owner, I have a history with the car and probably know more about it than you. I know, for example, that after two hours of driving the motor will tense up and, like a poker bluff, I can hold this to my chest and thus hide the car’s true value. This ‘asymmetrical information’, as economists call it, is part and parcel of all deals, no matter how fancy or complex the product that is being exchanged. While Goldin+Senneby might divulge some trade secrets within this exhibition, they all unite to signal one profound truth: caveat emptor.
Goldin+Senneby: Secrets of Trade was on view at Nome, Berlin from 27 April until 9 June.
Main image: Goldin+Senneby with Malin Nilsson (Magician), Théo Bourgeron (Sociologist Of Finance), Kevin Keener (Patent Attorney), Johan Hjerpe (Designer), Zero Magic, 2016, installation view, 2018, Nome, Berlin. Courtesy: the artists and Nome, Berlin; photograph: Gianmarco Bresadola